Whether you like it or not, video games have become a mainstay in the culture of today's youth. There was a time when people were ashamed of admitting they liked video games. Now, if you say you've never picked up a controller before, you're shunned and looked down upon like a street urchin in the slums of the set of Miss Saigon. Did you know that Modern Warfare 3 sold 6.5 million units on release date? Did you know Black Ops 2 broke Harry Potter's records with $500M sales on opening day? Think about that for a second. Video games are more popular than Harry Potter.
While there has been no proven direct correlation between violent crime and video games, it's still your responsibility as a parent to know what the hell your kids are playing. There are video games that aren't made for kids, and while retailers should be more restrictive when selling them, you, as parents, are ultimately the custodians of the kind of media your kids consume. Besides, you hold the money with which the kids buy video games.
I like this picture because that kid with the blue controller is playing video games without pressing any buttons
I've seen an 8 year old girl playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on an iPad Mini. I was all "That game has hookers and murder and tons of cussing!" Did you know there were games that had that kind of content? Well, now you do. Know what your kids are playing. The ESRB or the Entertainment Software Rating Board is here to help.
Developers and publishers for all gaming platforms send their games to the ESRB and the ESRB rates them before they're put into the market. Games are rated for age ranges based on appropriateness of the content. The more kid-friendly a game is, the lower the age restrictions are. Generally, games with no violence, sexual themes, gambling, alcoholic or drug references are deemed appropriate for kids. The more graphic and explicit those themes are, the higher on the restriction scale it goes.
Here are different ratings and what they mean.
Early Childhood - This is the lowest and most open rating the ESRB gives. Games that get this rating are generally developed for the purposes of learning or for family interaction. These games have no themes of violence, sex, drugs or any of that fun stuff we enjoy as adults. Kids as young as preschoolers can play games with this rating.
Examples of games under this classification are JumpStart Advanced Preschool for Mac by Knowledge Adventure, Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Grover for the Nintendo Wii by Warner Bros., Bob The Builder: Can-Do Zoo for the PC by Scholastic, Inc., Dora The Explorer: Animal Adventure for the PC by Atari, and Learning with the PooYoos - Episode 1 for the PS3 by Lexis Numerique.
Everyone - Just a step above Early Childhood. Technically, anyone who is capable of breathing can play this game, regardless of age. Games that are rated E are normally developed for kids to enjoy, but a surprising number of them are designed for adults, as well. A lot of these games are based off popular kiddie franchises and feature very little cartoon violence, if there's any at all, and infrequent mild language. Don't worry, though; they're very likely to be words like "doo-doo" or "dummy."
Examles of these games include 101 Dino Pets 3D for the Nintendo 3DS by Selectsoft Publishing, Farming Simulator for the PC and the 3DS by Giants Software, Mega Man for multiple platforms by Capcom, New Super Mario Bros U for the Wii-U by Nintendo, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 on multiple platforms by SEGA, and NBA 2k13 for the PS3, XBox 360, PC, Wii-U by 2k Games.
Everyone 10+ - A bit of a mid-stringer rating, these are games that can be played by anyone above the 10 year old range. For this, I recommend to use your finely honed and acute parental instincts. If the game is rated E+10 but you think your kid is mature enough to enjoy it properly, then go right ahead and buy it. Games with this rating have more cartoon violence, more frequent use of mild language and humor, and slight suggestive themes.
Examples of games under this rating include Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PS3 and the PS Vita by Sony Computer Entertainment America, SimCity for the PC by Electronic Arts, Rayman Legends for the Wii-U by Ubisoft, SiNG Party for the Wii-U by Nintendo, LEGO Lord of the Rings for multiple platforms by Warner Bros., and Adventure Time: Hey, Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage for the Nintendo DS by D3Publisher of America. Yes, that last title is, indeed, a game and it should win the best video game title of all time ever award.
Teen - This is where it starts getting fun for guys like me. Most games aimed towards adults that aren't too graphic fall under this category. Kids 13 years old and older are the target demographic for this rating. Teen rated games have graphic violence, some blood, harsh but not overly offensive language, crude humor, has some animated blood, has infrequent drug and gambling references and could quite possibly have some sexual themes. Beat-em'-ups, fighting games, simulations, real time strategies, brawlers, and even some sexually themed mobile games would fall under this rating scale. If you think about it like a TV show, teen rated games are kinda like Adult Swim cartoons or Conan.
Examples of games in the teen rating category include The Sims 3 on PC and Mac by Electronic Arts, Batman: Arkham City for the PC, PS3, XBox 360 by Warner Bros., PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for the PS3 and PS Vita by Sony Computer Entertainment America, Hawken for the PC by Adhesive Games, MAXIM Sexy Starlets for mobile by Wireless Developer Agency, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for PS3, XBox 360 and arcades by Namco, WWE 13 for the PS3, XBox 360 by THQ, and Street Fighter IV for PC, XBox 360, PS3 and arcades by Capcom.
Mature - Games that fall under this rating are more intensely violent, more graphic, more brutal, more realistic, more crude, and have more sexual themes, more blood, more gambling, more gore, and more drugs. Generally, these games are for 17 year olds and above, and should be kept away from kids - not because they're going to turn into mindless killing machines with no conscience, but because we, as a society, don't want our kids spouting out words like shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cock-sucker, motherfucker, tits, fart, turd, and twat during Sunday family lunches. Conveniently, it's also to avoid the whole "Daddy, what does two in the pink, one in the stink mean" conversation.
Some games that fall under this rating category are Tomb Raider for the PC, XBox 360, PS3 by Square Enix, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance for the XBox 360 and PS3 by Konami, God of War: Ascension for the PS3 by Sony Computer Entertainment America, Grand Theft Auto 4 (actually, all of them, except the first one and San Andreas) for multiple platforms by Rockstar Games, Battlefield 3 for the PC, PS3, XBox 360 by Electronic Arts/ Dice, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 by Activision/ Blizzard, and The Walking Dead on multiple platforms by Telltale Games. Essentially, all the fun stuff.
Adults Only - Now, we get to the hardcore shit. If the M rating is like the NC17 rating for movies, then AO is like double penetration donkey lesbian orgy porn. Okay, I exaggerate. But the Adults Only rating is reserved specifically for games with most graphic sexual content, intense graphic violence and gore, full nudity, gambling with real money, and Ozzy Osbourne-levels of profanity. This is where the naughty games fall under; the behind-closed-doors kinda ones. The rating is generally for people 18 years old and above, which is the age of consent for some states and the Philippines in general. If you can vote, you can play AO video games.
Before I list down the games that got the AO rating, you're gonna have to promise that you won't start Googling for them to get your jollies, okay? Examples of games in this category include Seduce Me for PC and Mac by No Reply Games, Manhunt 2 for PC, PS2, PSP by Rockstar Games, Playboy The Mansion: Private Party for the PC by Groove Media, Inc., Lula 3D for the PC by CDV Software Entertainment, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the PS2, PC and XBox by Rockstar Games, and Critical Point on the PC by Peach Games.
Rating Pending - This just means that the game is still undergoing the rating process and that the ESRB hasn't released one officially. Normally, this rating is just used during the marketing phase of a game before release. Once a game has been rated, the RP rating will be replaced. That's all there is to that.
Other things to take note of:
But wait, there's more! There are a couple things on the packaging of games that you need to take note of. There exist interaction ratings, or rather, the lack thereof. As you may know, a lot of games these days have multiplayer and access the Internet. Multiplayer means there are other people online who will interact with you or your kid. Now, don't worry. I am unaware of any predators on games like Modern Warfare. If anything, I hate and actively avoid kids on MP because they're snotty racist loud-mouth assholes.
Shares Info icon appears on the game description if the game shares details provided by the user like name, email address, etc. to third parties like Twitter or Facebook or credit card gateways for payments. Nothing to worry about here.
Share Location icon appears when the game is real-time and interactive that utilizes your location, like FourSquare. This is normally used on mobile games.
Users Interact icon is there to warn you, the parent, that there is user interaction on the game or app via user generated content through social networks like Facebook or Twitter. A good example of a game with this is Draw Something by OMGPop. There is no way for ESRB to rate the drawings done by users. I used to draw dicks all the time.
Online Interaction Not Rated by the ESRB - There is no way for the ESRB to rate what people say to each other on those platforms, so keep an eye out. If you want an idea of what people say to each other during online games, check out our Gaming Glossary. Worry not, though. It's normally your punk ass kids doing all the swearing and the racial smack talk.
Music Downloads Not Rated by the ESRB - Some music-based games download music for gameplay. The musical piece or song itself isn't rated by the ESRB. Musical warnings are done by the RIAA.
I sincerely hope this guide helps you parents out there. You are now aware that such a rating system exists, and you are to be guided accordingly when buying games for your offspring. All you have to remember is that EC, E, E+10 are good for kids, and T, M, AO are for older kids. If you're still having trouble with this, maybe this graphic will help.
Thank you, MemeCenter.com